You are a photographer. You have the best gear you can afford. You have a hard drive full of great imagery. You post your photos on 500px, Flickr and God only knows where else. Your friends love your work. You and your photography are running at 100 miles per hour. You’ve done it!
But have you?
Have you ever asked yourself why you are doing this? What’s your goal? Who are you as a person and photographer? Are you a photographer because you are addicted to your expensive gear? Or maybe you just like sitting in front of a computer? What do you feel when you take an image? Does the image mean anything to you? What did you contribute to this enormous body of work?
Recently I noticed I am out of photographic breath. I picked up my camera, took another pretty photo, came home and felt nothing as if my photography train had hit the wall. It’s not that it hasn’t happened in the past.
STOP. BREATHE. START AGAIN.
First, you become detached from your photography. You run after easy images, the ones that top the popular 500px ranking. It’s almost like eating junk food. You have an urge to push the button and a rushing feeling but as soon as you swallow the last bite, the pleasure disappears and discomfort sets in. You promise yourself you won’t eat this again. Then, after a while, you give up. After all, it’s fast and easy.
Then you notice you have lost your appetite. You have great scenery in front of you but you don’t reach for your camera. You feel detached and bored. After all, you have a hundreds images like this on your hard drive. You find every excuse not to take a photo. You just don’t want to SEE.
This has just happened to me and I am glad it did.
For the last few weeks I‘ve hardly taken any photos. My X100S stayed at home. It’s not that I wasn’t thinking about photography. Quite the reverse!
I have spent days and weeks evaluating my photography and my way of seeing. Think of it as internal audit. You look at your work as an outsider but with your own artistic consciousness. Some images you took may be very popular but they no longer light your fire. It’s fine. Accept it.
Your internal storm drags you in many artistic directions – that’s fine too. Let it be. Street photography, fine art photography, landscape, and people – everything should be on the plate. STOP. BREATHE. START OVER.
How do I emerge from such a transformative state? It takes time, sometimes weeks or months. You cannot force it to end.
However, once it ends you will notice significant changes. You will feel, think and see differently. You will pick up your camera and take the best imagery of your life. You become a new photographer and somehow much more engaged. Fast-food imagery no longer impresses you. You are looking for something special. You know that taking a great image requires much more than pressing the shutter button. Most importantly, your new direction has been set – you will start running again until… you hit another wall.
That’s fine. You know that this is a normal and necessary part of being a photographer. From time to time you must just STOP. BREATHE. START AGAIN.
If you find this article chaotic and confusing – that’s exactly what it is. The whole process of transformation and renewal is a messy and perplexing experience. And it should be. Zack Arias, an excellent photographer, made a great movie about this aspect of being a photographer. You can find it here.
Next time, I will share some fantastic imagery taken by our good friend Thomas Kampioni who has just returned from a trip to Spain. Are you ready to fight the windmills with Don Quixote?
2014 © Olaf Sztaba Photography. All rights reserved.